Is it possible to serve specialty without knowing why and how to adjust the grinder?
It will be sort of a compilation of thoughts that I got after having some conversations this week.
Here in Portugal, in Lisbon, the situation regarding Specialty Scene is coming to a point when many coffee shops want to have “specialty”, cause it is a fashion, and it is some sort of prestigious. But we end up having same burnt coffee in the cup, as a final result, but a bit more expensive. And a client will be right if he just drops all that, calls this a “trucos para enganar os turistas”, and comes back to drinking espresso for 60 cents. Because, as a popular commecial says, if there is no difference, why to pay more?
And really, why?
You don’t have to be a coffee professional to guess that when you burn robusta, and high quality arabica till the charcoal state, they will taste equally bad.
But the question is – how do you create the difference? What is necessary to create it? What it Specialty?
You already know, that in this blog to decribe specialty coffee I use a definition of Ben Kaminsky, that for me compilates it all.
“Specialty coffee – extracted coffee of any concentration, where by virtue of it’s flavor alone, one could derive some sense of that coffee’s high quality of picking, country of origin, variety, terroir, and/or processing.”
One more time gonna give the link to the video where he gives this definition. Definitely worth watching, just in case you are doubting.
That’s an important part, actually.
Because right now here, in Portugal, specialty coffee is a synonym to the artisanal coffee. Which is crazy. Because if it is artisanal – it is completely ok to roast on a wood-burning roaster, it is even cool, it gives a handmade look. When for anybody who understands just a little bit about specialty coffee it would sound as a total craziness. When roasters all over the world are complaining because using gas burners is not perfect enough, is not giving them enough accuracy and control – what can you possibly say about roasting coffee using the wood? Artisanal – yes. Specialty – definitely no.
So, back to the topic. What is necessary to be serving Specialty Coffee the way Kaminsky describes it?
I am not a millionaire, and neighter am I sponsered by anybody – so my point of view is a point of view of a person who has limited amount of money, but a huge desire to make it all work out the best way.
So… If you have endless budget, just buy top equipment, top equipment at the moment.
If you don’t – buy smart. Buy known brands, investigate, invest in the grinder first, then in the espresso machine, talk to people who actually work on this equipment, and not only with the ones who sell it, and listen to what they have to say. In other words, do the homework. Grinder first, machine second. Good grinder will compensate not having a top machine, but the other way it will not work – expensive espresso machine will not forgive the mistakes the grinder does.
If you already have some equipment – probably you can work with it. Don’t rush into buying new things just because it feels good. Probably you can buy them later.
Just my position. Worths more to know your equipment and to know how to work with it well, be one, than to have all the top machines. Gives you more points. More control, more habilities – more points.
Work with the roaster who knows what he is doing, and invests in constant education. Who knows his beans, who bought because he cupped it, not because they are just cheap. Who cupps in general, that’s important. Who can tell you how to brew this coffee.
Just work with the pro, that’s it.
Probably it will be more expensive. Ok. The truth is, if he pays 9 euros for the kilo of green beans, he cannot sell you a kilo of roasted for 10. Or 15. So if you are offered low prices – it is not the time to celebrate that you found “THE ONE”. It is the time to think “why so low?”. Because the answer lies in the quality of greens.
It is not uncommon to buy the beans that cupped lower than 80, and sell them as specialty. They are not, just to begin with.
So, quality beans and quality roaster, who not only good in marketing – who is good in the craft.
The dream of many cafe owners – total automatization and interchangeability. You just tell the worker which button to press – and that’s it. Does not matter which employee did the coffee – it will be equally done.
And they are not totally wrong, many chains fuction like that. Strict clear instructions, regulations, norms – the reason why Mc’Donalds and Starbucks are so successfull.
The question is: can it be applied to specialty coffee?
Can we just have the grinder that tells us “V60”, “Aeropress”, “Espresso” – and don’t think any more? Strict recipies?
I guess we can, ideally. You just need a person who will create these rules. And then – to be sure that everybody who is touching the coffee follows these rules from A to Z.
In the real situation it is almost impossible.
Because of the very approach to coffee. Coffee is seen as something so simple, so every-day, so normal, that following the rules is seen as something “too geeky”. When people see an employee in a normal cafe just using coffee ground half an hour ago and sitting there in the hopper, not measuring anything, using automatic machine, for years, and no special education needed, low qualified job – and then come to work in a specialty coffee place… Hard to get it out of your head. That it actually matters how much coffee you use per certain amount of water, that brew time matters…
So standartization in specialty is possible with a certain clause – if you are sure that everybody is following the rules you created.
If no – forget it.
And find somebody with necessary training.
Because Specialty coffee is not something set in stone. It is something that has to be done every single day, like bread. It is not like you put the thing on the wall, and since that moment you are “Specialty”. It depends on every single drink you make. And with every single drink you have to start again.